59,000 Haitians Displaced By 2010 Earthquake Granted Extra 6 Months To Live In U.S.

More than seven years after an earthquake shattered Haiti’s capital, the secretary of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly, announced Monday that he would grant 58,700 Haitians another six months to live and work in the United States.

The Haitians, who were visiting the United States or living here illegally when the earthquake hit, are part of a program called Temporary Protected Status that was made available to them after the earthquake, when conditions in Haiti were deemed too dangerous for them to return. On Monday, Mr. Kelly extended the program for six months, concluding that while Haiti was still not ready to absorb the citizens, a longer extension was not needed, senior Homeland Security officials said.

“Haiti has made progress across several fronts since the devastating earthquake in 2010,” Mr. Kelly said in a news release. “The Haitian economy continues to recover and grow, and 96 percent of people displaced by the earthquake and living in internally displaced person camps have left those camps.”

Mr. Kelly said he would re-evaluate conditions in six months to decide whether to allow the Haitians in the program to stay longer in the United States. But he injected a note of caution, saying they should begin preparing to return to Haiti in case their special designation ends on Jan. 22, 2018. On that day, Haitians would be vulnerable to deportation unless they had proper documentation.

Congress created the Temporary Protected Status program in 1990 to be temporary, but some designations have stretched as long as two decades.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers and many faith-based groups had hoped for a longer extension. Since the 2010 earthquake, Haiti has been hit hard by cholera, drought, floods and Hurricane Matthew, which wiped out crops, livestock, homes and roads along Haiti’s southwestern coast last year. The Haitian ambassador and foreign minister had also lobbied for more time. They met with Mr. Kelly last week.

“While this news will give the tens of thousands of Haitians anxiously waiting to learn the program’s fate some measure of relief, this is in fact a cup-half-full situation,” said Representative Frederica S. Wilson, a Democrat whose district in South Florida is home to many Haitians. “The reality is that in six months, Haiti will still be in no position to absorb and aid 58,000 unemployed people.”

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SOURCE: NY Times – Lizette Alvarez